2016 has become history, and we've transitioned into a new year. How do we build on our past successes as we move forward?
Although we can’t control external factors, how could we strengthen those that we do have control over?
I spent time reflecting on how I used my strengths the past year and how I could better aim my strengths this year. This piece is written as a personal reflection for 2017, but it is also written as one that seeks to remind and spark others into action. Here are three good questions to ask to figure out how to apply your strengths in 2017.
1. How do I grow as a leader?
It is no secret that a good leader needs to grow in self-awareness. To do this, here are a few good questions to reflect on: Are our strengths being used more positively or negatively? Is there evidence to back that up? What specific feedback about our performance could help us identify how we have been using our strengths?
In Gallup’s StrengthsFinder language, every strength has a “Basement” and “Balcony.” But in a Singaporean context, since very few people live in houses and understand the idea of basements or balconies, I’ve renamed these terms “Infancy” and “Maturity.” Put simply, strengths in their infancy are usually strengths negatively expressed, and strengths in maturity are strengths positively expressed.
From a developmental perspective, not all strengths are developed equally. Some strengths are more mature than others. We should be intentional to identify which of our strengths need to be further developed towards maturity.
MANAGERS: Download a free 3-step guide on how to use StrengthsFinder to develop yourself as a leader.
One of my StrengthsFinder Dominant Themes is Belief. Personally, I would like to focus on developing this strength in 2017. My Belief theme means that I have certain core values that are enduring, which form the basis for a lot of my decision-making both at work and at home. These values need to be continuously strengthened to match up with growing responsibilities.
For me, these growing responsibilities include my personal journey of being a father to my two young sons as well as the Founder of Strengths School™. As my sons and my team grow, I also need to grow in clarity of how my decisions are guided. For me, this is a very important aspect of leadership. The last time I did an extensive reflection on my core values was in 2012, as I pondered a major transition in my own life. That process of re-examining my values gave me a greater ability to cross-check my actions and decisions and understand how I have been living my life.
As I took time to reflect at the end of 2016, I realized I need greater clarity on what my core values are in order to make better decisions. I need to be able to express my values succinctly, and have them displayed in a place where I can be constantly reminded of them. I'm hopeful that this process can lead me to greater heights. I believe that this process of re-examining my core values will help me evaluate my own behaviour and to grow my Belief theme towards maturity.
2. How do I use StrengthsFinder at work?
Our strengths are best used by intentionally aiming them towards our goals. First, set 2-3 performance goals for yourself at work. Make these goals tangible, measurable, and specific. These goals can also involve building new partnerships at work. Then, think about how you could use your strengths to achieve these goals.
Most of us are already using our strengths daily. The problem is that often, we are unaware of how we are doing so! Strengths development is about developing that awareness. Once we have that awareness, we will be able to intentionally aim our strengths towards our goals. I wrote a reflection piece on this a year ago and I continue to be an advocate of intentionally aiming our strengths in our work (you can read the article here).
For 2017, there are two key work goals I am aiming for.
The first is to write a book on the application of strengths in leadership. This is an area I am very passionate about.
Through my various interactions with business leaders, school leaders, and church leaders, I have gained greater clarity on the challenges of leadership and how strengths can be applied to overcome these obstacles. I would love to be able to communicate my thoughts through a book.
I think for that to happen, my Activator would need to drive me to take action and to get this project going no matter how difficult that might be. There are so many steps to take to finish a book: from being clear about the vision, to thinking about the different topics, to writing the content and editing, and so on. Each time I face a roadblock, I imagine that my Activator will be greatly needed to overcome procrastination and push myself towards action.
My Communication will also be greatly leveraged to write out my thoughts and to let them flow.
As leaders, we will often face a lot of self-doubt. I think my Self-Assurance will be needed a lot to produce the confidence that I need to finish the book and believe that I can do it. I will probably need to engage my Self-Assurance to believe in the worth of this book.
Finally, I will be banking on my Achiever to finish writing on the different topics and to empower me with the drive to finish.
Another area in which I’ll be intentionally applying my strengths is in the area of Business Development for Strengths School™.
I intend to aim my Command theme towards the goal of improving sales by 20%. Ever since I took Gallup's Builder Profile and understood that my top strength is Selling, I realized sales is an area I can take greater ownership of for the company. I also realized how much I enjoy "selling" the idea of Strengths to others. Specifically, I enjoy educating teams and individuals to understand how to use the StrengthsFinder tool to improve performance and their quality of life.
Linking this goal back to my StrengthsFinder theme of Belief, sales is the process that requires me to ask others for a chance to showcase my belief and the company’s beliefs. Ever since I discovered how my Builder profile matches my StrengthsFinder themes, I no longer find sales daunting. I believe I can intentionally dig deep into my Command theme to gain greater clarity on the needs of my different clients. My Command theme can also help me gain clarity on how I can effectively sell without being pushy. I am increasingly reaping the fruit of clarity that this theme is providing and I want to leverage on this Command theme more and more.
3. How do I build strategic partnerships?
As leaders, we all have blind spots. One effective way of overcoming these is building strategic partnerships with people with very different strengths from our own. This requires us to be open to different perspectives. We might not always agree, but the act of listening and considering their perspectives will broaden the insights we have.
When we look for partners, we usually look for people whom we feel have something to offer to us. There is a sense of respect we have towards these people. One approach that people usually take to find strategic partners is to look for high performing individuals who have proven abilities. Another approach (while not very popular but can be immensely powerful) is to grow in humility and believe that everyone, regardless of age, working experiences, gender, have valuable perspectives to offer. This approach is usually further-reaching and empowers us to look at our immediate circles to seek out effective partnerships.
Gallup’s StrengthsFinder 2.0 provides a practical way of identifying good partnerships. In Gallup’s terms, each of the 34 StrengthsFinder themes is defined by a unique way of thinking, feeling and behaving. The uniqueness of each theme affects our decision-making processes. The combination of these talent themes forms our raw potential, and it is by tapping on these innate motivations that we are most actualized. Yet each StrengthsFinder theme is also prone to what I define as blind spots. A fish desiring to swim in water would not be able to appreciate what goes on above ground. What goes on within the deep blue sea forms the whole worldview of a fish. Likewise, a monkey would not appreciate the beauty that lies deep within an ocean.
Using StrengthsFinder 2.0 to build strategic partnerships can be very effective and simple. By seeking out people who have very different but complementary strengths, we can build deep and meaningful strategic partnerships.
My belief is that we all need strategic partners who have complementary strengths. In order to become better human beings and grow in maturity, we often need to expand our capacity to see beyond what we think we can see.
In 2017, I have identified three new Strategic Partners with whom I want to build stronger working relationships and leverage their perspectives and insights. Each of these partners has very different strengths from my own. I believe this can greatly grow my capacity to be a better leader of my home and workplace.
One person I have identified has the Ideation theme. I plan to leverage on the Ideation's ability to provide me with visual creativity for the book and to help me with topic ideas that can inspire me to communicate my thoughts. I believe that this partnership is crucial to the success of the book.
Another partner I’ve identified has the Discipline theme, a less dominant theme for me. I realize that the lack of well-defined structures has caused me some pain in 2016, and I need to leverage on the Discipline theme's ability to help me create these structures. I imagine I’ll need the structures and milestones to drive the completion of the book.
The third person I have identified has the Positivity theme, also a less dominant theme for me. I think I need to leverage the Positivity's ability to look on the bright side of things and to give encouragement. I believe that kind of support can push me to a greater level of performance.
Concluding thoughts: I hope these three areas can help spark a few thoughts about what you can do with your strengths. If any of these helped you, I’d be happy to hear what you think! Simply write to me or leave your thoughts in the “Comments” section.